Will Metcalf, Executive Director of Research Development and Strategic Initiatives at UofL
How does university research get connected with budding entrepreneurs to make their way to market? Technology transfer is the process by which valuable research, skills, knowledge, and/or technology, developed by a research organization, can adopted commercially and fuel new businesses.
We spoke with Will Metcalf, Executive Director of Research Development and Strategic Initiatives at the University of Louisville, to give us an understanding of the process. Metcalf is also co-founder and Chairman of the Louisville Entrepreneur Acceleration Partnership (LEAP) and the Director of the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic at the Brandeis School of Law.
What is involved in getting a particular concept or piece of research to development?
It requires dedication, teamwork, and a robust infrastructure. For example, for a medical device there’s a long pathway ahead that includes basic science, clinical studies, regulation, extensive testing and approvals, and lots of funding.
Building relationships and collaborations with entities and people who have different skills is one key to moving discoveries through to impact.
For example, this year we developed a partnership with the largest privately held medical device manufacturer in the world, which will help move medical devices more quickly from our labs into commercial viability, where they can help patients and save lives.
Other types of research-derived technologies, maybe consumer products, might have a shorter path to market and require less funding. Regardless, finding the right strategic partners is critical. For the most part, our inventors typically leverage the robust commercialization infrastructure we have here at UofL, which includes our prestigious “superfecta” of translational research grants, intellectual property protection, licensing support, and a deep network of advisors. With the translational research grants, we are able to make investments into ideas that are overseen by both technical and industry experts.
Can you explain more about what you do specifically?
My team and I help connect researchers with funding opportunities and work to support development of competitive proposals. Through this work, we supported a record-breaking $152M in research and service awards for 2019. As Chairman of LEAP, a public-private partnership that amplifies the Louisville region’s ability to attract and grow high-tech companies, we built a collaboration to support innovation that leverages our region’s unique strengths, including a powerful healthcare business cluster unlike anything else in the world and our only R1 research university.
LEAP’s goal is ambitious: to create a community that will attract and retain high-growth startups by engaging sustainable participation from our region's largest corporate clusters, like healthcare, and our region’s only tier 1 research university — something that had never been effectively done before.
What is an example of a particular research concept from UL that has been commercialized?
There’s a recent example by a researcher in our College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) who invented a tool for tracking employee engagement that I am really excited about. Thorough our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIR) program, backed by LEAP, the university inventor connected with a local entrepreneur, Charley Miller, who ended up licensing the technology for his new startup, Unitonomy. It was the first license out of our CEHD and the first out of the brand new EIR program.
What kinds of research is going on now that you’re looking at developing?
To be clear, it is not me developing the research, that is the job to the inventors and scientists in the laboratory. Our role is to support that development and make connections with interested parties and entrepreneurs. With that said, we have some truly amazing things happening at UofL. We have researchers here working on everything from potential cancer vaccines to new materials for 3-D printing to machine learning tools for healthcare diagnostics.
[Interview edited for space]